So, you want to write for children? Some tips for newbie writers.

1960022_10152010259691045_1946113946_nEspecially for Prof. Hazelle Preclaro Ongtengco’s EDR 121 class.

Write for a specific child. She may or may not be real, but it helps to fix this child in your mind as you write your story. What makes her happy? What makes her sad? What scares her? What are her dreams? Knowing the answers to these questions provides us with a clue as to which details we need to include as we flesh out our story. The Devil is in the details, as they say. They spell the difference between a blah story and one that will resonate with the reader. Talking to a specific child, you also learn to eliminate details which are unnecessary. Sometimes writers cull details from their lives, and most of the time, these details from personal reminiscences which are so meaningful to the writer are totally useless or irrelevant to the reader. Some writers try to get around the problem by writing footnotes which explain details in the story, but unless it is a biographical or historical story which allude to certain events, writers will do better to avoid bothersome footnotes.

Fixing the age of your target reader helps you decide the storytelling style, as well as the diction. Stories for preschoolers hardly have plots.  Because they are read to or are just beginning to read, the vocabulary and syntax are simple. Middle readers, on the other hand, are more sophisticated readers and look at reading as an adventure, and enjoy thicker, more complicated plots.

The child in you is always the best audience. It’s the child you know best; you know her even better than your own child.

Help your reader along. When you decide to write for children, you take on a huge responsibility. Inevitably, your stories will help shape your readers’ view of the world. Take it upon yourself to teach, explain and enlighten–but the challenge is how to do these creatively, and without talking down to your audience. Incorporate your explanation as naturally, for instance, in your descriptions, or in your character’s moment of insight.

Avoid ambiguity in your writing. All too often, clarity gets sacrificed for the sake of style. Always strive to be clear first, before being clever.

Show, don’t tell. When writing picture books, bear in mind that the book is also visual, so you don’t really need detailed descriptions. The less words, the better for picture books. When you’re writing for older readers, remember that you can always employ dialogue to advance the plot. Do not make your story too cut-up-and-dried by narrating and explaining everything to your reader–unless, of course, you want to make for a boring read. Always engage your reader.

Avoid mentioning real people, company or brand names. Instead, make up names that evoke similar associations in the reader, especially if the specific name is central to the plot. Using made-up names helps you avoid the problematic issue of inadvertently defaming real people or organizations.

Make sure your main character undergoes a transformation. To make your story a worthwhile read, your main character should always be a different person by the end of your story. It helps if you know more about your character than you will actually use in the story. The amount or quality of transformation your character goes through also depends on the age of your target reader. For younger readers, needless to say, the character is transformed by as little as a change of opinion about a certain thing. For instance, a character who is scared to go to the doctor at the beginning of a story might conclude, by the end, that a visit to the doctor is not so bad after all.


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